I’m a Kenyan mum. Young and an adopted, not born, Nairobian. I’m blessed in many ways. When I count my blessings, having a family and holding a salaried job rank only after my good health. These last two – a stable job and health – is something that a growing number of Kenyans don’t have. Therefore, even as I share my experience of being a Nairobi mum during COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown, I’m cognizant that the experience of a majority of Nairobi mothers is dire and grim.
This is because a majority of my sisters in unstable employment or self employment live on a daily wage and the pandemic disruptive to not only their lives, but also their livelihoods. Nonetheless, I share my experience packed with tips for mums staying home with their little ones. Because, even as we are disproportionately afflicted, we are in this together; and sharing experiences is one way we can beat the pandemic.
The COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown – my experience
The COVID-19 pandemic had been afflicted the globe since December of 2019. At the beginning of the pandemic, Kenya like most African countries had been spared by the disease. We read news and listened to family in diaspora talk about the virus the way one would watch a movie. It was both distant and scary.
Come March 2020 and our day with the virus inevitably arrived. On the 13th of that month, the first case in Kenya was confirmed. Just like that it was no longer distant and there were jitters in everybody’s spines, especially those of us living in Nairobi. The public anxiety, social tension and anger that followed the announcement was palpable.
Hemmed in between a city’s malady and the pandemic
Our varied experiences with Nairobbery has always made us be suspicious of each other, with COVID-19 docking in the Kenyan capital, walking down the streets transformed into an affair that one wanted to end as soon as it begun. You wanted out. Not only out of the streets, but out of Nairobi as the pandemic attacked the faint traces of the spirit of Ubuntu in the city. Then on April 6th of 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced measures aimed at restricting movement in order to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
You see, I reside in an area of the Kenyan capital, about 20 kilometres from the central business district. Often, those of us who reside that far from the city are the but of jokes on morning and evening FM radio shows. We are chided for claiming to live in Nairobi yet we spent up to seven hours a day navigating in and out of the city in notorious Nairobi traffic. Seven hours is just about the time it will take you to travel to the coastal city of Mombasa 488 kilometres away, in acceptable speed on a clear day.
A villager in Nairobi
That day, as the president spelled out the areas of the larger Nairobi metropolitan area that were part of the lockdown, some us finally become Nairobians even though we officially reside in other counties. AND THAT WAS SCARY. Scary because we’ve always took pride in escaping from the city whenever we retreated to Nairobi’s bedrooms in the parts of Kajiado, Kiambu and Machakos counties that neighbor the City County of Nairobi.
We’ve always felt that the distance from the CBD shielded us from the city and all its maladies. Now, bandied together because of the pandemic, the larger lesson was that it was just a matter of time before the city got to us.
Like most Nairobians my age, the city is a distant land far removed from where I was born and where I am married. Culturally and socially, Nairobi is a foreign land – a temporary habit as we hustle away from where we call home. However, this is not the same for my children.
Staying at home
I am blessed to be a mother of two lovely kids born within a span of three years. Quick math will tell you that the elder one is technically not a toddler. That said, once they get on the business of being brother and sister, they nothing else but toddlers. First, there’s the usual sibling rivalry. Second, there’s the sheer number of cases one has to solve every now and then – never mind that one can hardly talk. Then, more significantly, is the escape of playing outside is no more thanks to social distancing.
Whilst my children in a year cumulatively spend at most six weeks in those places I call home. Their home, Nairobi, was nothing like they had known it. Some few days away from making it sixty days of partial lockdown and a night curfew, I see their young minds struggling with this new normal. This is in spite of my husband and I’s best efforts to create a sense of normalcy. This is my journey as a Nairobi mum during the COVID-19 lockdown. I hope my experience if of help to my fellow mothers.
Tips for mums from experience of being a Nairobi mum during COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown
As is the Kenyan norm, a working mother usually engages a domestic manager to take care of her house while she works. The anxiety of what was coming was too much for my house help, a villager as myself, on the eve of before the ban on movement in and out of the city, she chose to act on the feeling of being trapped in a foreign land. She took leave on half pay and left for her rural home a day before the lock down. My husband and I were left with our toddlers.
This time for the four of us has been challenging as much as it has helped us bond as a family. Needless to add, I’ve gathered buckets of respect for housewives. If you thought the 8 to 5 as monotonous, try being a housewife. Let me tell you, one does tasks repeatedly. You are always cooking, cleaning, bathing, washing over and over. And if you are locked in with kids as my little two, things can get overwhelming. I have come to appreciate the importance of getting the kids into some routine. Anything short of that and you easily end up with a messy house, grumpy husband and irritable children.
Moreover as we worked from home, the challenge of finding an optimal work-life balance can make your life as a Nairobi mum during Nairobi COVID-19 lockdown, a living hell.
Keeping the kids busy
We had to look up for ideas how to keep toddlers busy. We bought crayons, water colors and to save on costs went over to the local cybercafe and printed out drawings. All these items individually just about a dollar each. For this sum within reach, we were able to keep the kids engaged most of the times. We would chose what pictures to paint on each day and took time to educate the kids what each picture meant.
Structuring the your toddler’s day
We then came up with a schedule of events. The schedule helped us ensure the kids get used to some routine. For example, set strict adherence to bed and wake up times. You can imagine the resistance we faced as they wanted in on the fun things they presumed mummy and daddy were upto after jettisoning them to bed. But the schedule was the real deal. Before this lockdwon period, I had never fully appreciated the importance of activity, as simple as talking a walk, in making kids sleep soundly. The schedule also regulated the number of hours our kids spent watching TV.
Beyond the schedule, we also laid down rules of engagement. Our toddlers were made to understand that they were to follow rules. Punishments such as taking time outs proved very effective in enhancing enforcement.
Teaching kids to helping out with chores
This is one area where we reaped from having the househelp on leave. We encouraged our toddlers to take part in household chores. With time by asking them to help and chaperoning them, my kids got into the work routine. They assisted in laying the table, clearing the table, picking up toys and storing them in their respective containers.
Undertake tasks jointly with the kids like praying, cooking and exercising. There’s nothing funnier or more fulfilling than a toddler trying to recite the Lord’s Prayer. So much fun. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the joint activities. These young ones love to learn. Quickly you’ll realize how much they are looking forward to the next activity. You should have seen how mine jumped in joy whenever a new activity was introduced.
Oh yes, do play together
We got involved in the children games and play. The lockdown helped me rediscover the kid within as we run around the house screaming, clapping and cheering each other whenever one of us won a game. We would for example play hide and seek with the kids. The screams and squeals of joy of my son whenever he managed to get to the tip spot before us is a joy I will treasure for life.
The lockdown period has made us bond as a family. In addition, it has gifted me something most of us working mums miss on. In spite of all the uncertainty, watching your children grow is indeed a blessing. Moreover, the increased contact time allowed us to know how to interact with our little ones. It has also allowed us an opportunity to teach our children some life lessons and skills. What a time to be alive!